The Health and Safety Authority

Unfortunately, between January and June this year we have already seen twelve farm fatalities. In the last ten years, excluding 2017 incidents, almost 200 families have suffered the loss of a loved one because of an accident on an Irish farm – that’s almost one every three weeks.

Farm Safety is About Real People

These aren’t just statistics – they are real people, real farming families – and the scary thing is that they don’t even account for the 2,500 plus farm families impacted by serious farm accidents each year. The fact that there are very few of us who don’t know of someone impacted by farm accidents shows us the scale of the challenge. It also shows that they occur all over the country, across all sectors, and that neither young nor old are immune to the potential dangers – over 45% of farm fatalities in the last ten years have involved children or older farmers.

 

“It Won’t Happen to Me”

The blurring of the farm as a giant playground and place of residence, the diverse workload (often completed alone and under time pressure) and the fact that few farmers ever really retire, explain in part why the rate of agricultural-related fatalities is far higher than any other economic sector. But does it really get to the heart of the issue? Does it justify why the level of farm accidents is so reluctant to decline or why similar accidents occur year after year on Irish farms?

The simple answer is no, and to improve requires collective effort and acceptance by us all that a farm accident can happen on any farm. All too often, myself included, we think it won’t happen to us: “I know every inch of the farm, I was born here and have worked here every day since. I know where the dangers are and can avoid them”.

 

Don’t Take Chances

Chances are often taken as a result. And whether it’s getting into the pen with a freshly calved cow, not turning off the PTO when dealing with a blockage or making sure the handbrake is on and all brakes/lights working, the outcome can be fatal. I’m not in any way trying to paint a picture of negligence on the part of the farmer. Instead, I’m hoping to point out that sometimes familiarity leads to complacency and because we are so familiar with our surroundings, and our activities, we fail to see the wood from the trees.

And it’s not just the obvious things that we need to be conscious of. It’s the smaller or more trivial things where in hindsight we’d say, ‘I should have fixed that weeks ago’ or ‘What was I thinking of going so fast on the quad?’. Speaking to anyone about farm accidents, very often the bull or the uncovered PTO shaft spring to mind. But combined, they account for less than 5% of farm fatalities in the last 10 years. Nearly three times more have died from falls on Irish farms and five times more after being crushed by farm machinery.

 

Small Changes Make a Huge Difference

Ultimately, managing safety on our farms is our own personal responsibility, and should be a constant in our daily farm plans and activities. Not just for our own safety, but that of our families, employees and visitors to our farm.

The good news is that small changes to farm facilities and practices can make huge differences and there are a range of supports available. For example, The Health and Safety Authority have a range of practical guides and safety tips on their website to help identify and control potential challenges across a range of farm activities.